When you’re winning any kind of competition, it’s rare that you’ll look at what the opposition is doing and completely copy their strategy. That’s what Sony launching an Xbox Game Pass clone as part of its evolved PlayStation subscription service would have amounted to.
While the new PlayStation Plus tiers adopt much of what makes Game Pass popular with players on the other side of the fence, Sony rightly stopped short of throwing in the crown jewels – those brand new first party exclusives, on day one of release.
It’s understandable that news has disappointed some gamers. Indeed, who wouldn’t love immediate access to the brand new GT7 and Horizon Forbidden West as part of a service offering the kind of value Microsoft is right now?
The truth is, this was never realistic and won’t be for the foreseeable future. While some in the the gaming community have been screaming for Sony to ‘catch up’ to Microsoft and ‘answer’ Game Pass, Sony knows it still leads the race with plenty of mileage in the tank.
GT7 just went on sale, Horizon Forbidden West not so long ago, God of War Ragnarok is still to come, as is Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Marvel’s Wolverine, Ghostwire Tokyo and whatever Naughty Dog decides to do next. That’s to name just a few exclusives.
Why would it practically give those £60/$70 games away as part of a subscription service, on a console it literally cannot produce enough of to satisfy demand?
Closing the gap?
While the console hardware availability makes it difficult to judge overall superiority, there are indications that the new-gen console battle will be closer than the last. A look at the breakdown of early Elden Ring sales, for example, suggests PlayStation consoles represented 32% of the first 10 million copies, with Xbox just back at 29%.
Microsoft needed a reaction after the Xbox One was drubbed by the PS4 in the last-gen war. It’s gamble on Game Pass and cloud streaming is likely part of the reason many floating gamers have picked the Xbox this time around. It was for me, a casual gamer, who loves dipping in and out of the hype-worthy games without actually having to buy them.
But that doesn’t mean Sony should tear up the playbook. To use a football analogy, Man United may bring in a new manager next season, with a new style that gets the team challenging for the Premier League title again. That doesn’t mean Jurgen Klopp should abandon what has made Liverpool successful, just to play like Man United, right?
Sony’s current business model that relies on the enduring love for those first-party exclusives people buy in the tens of millions. There’s plenty of money to be made that way in the short and medium term.
The cost of quality
Right now, PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan calls it a “good virtuous cycle with the studios” whereby Sony’s massive investment into those blockbuster exclusives has paid dividends, breeding reinvestment into bigger franchises and better sequels. Ryan feels chucking everything into a Game Pass-style service would break that continuity and, as a result, the games would suffer.
In an interview with Gameindustry.biz today, Ryan said: “The level of investment that we need to make in our studios would not be possible, and we think the knock-on effect on the quality of the games that we make would not be something that gamers want.”
It’s an interesting point. If you read between the lines, it’s not too great a leap to guess what Ran may be inferring. It sounds like he’s not convinced the Game Pass model can maintain the highest standards. In that case, PS5 probably wins anyway.
Of course, the picture is always evolving. If Microsoft hoards games from its Bethesda and Activision acquisitions as Xbox/Game Pass exclusives, that may force Sony to become more aggressive in response.
Until that point Sony retains the flexibility to stay the course with an enhanced PlayStation Plus proposition with access to 700 games (including classics from the archives), streaming, online multiplayer, free games, trials and more. Sony has responded well to the evolving gaming landscape. There was absolutely no need to commit any more.